Which is worse? Christopher Columbus sporting a Rolex, or General Custer at the Little Big Horn armed with a Walther PPK? Issues like that are intractably raised when a purist views Artemesia, Paul Thomas' beautifully endowed film about art and the pursuit thereof in the Middle Ages. Particularly when the collective cast pursues enough of its own decorative touches, at least in a tattooed sense, to satisfy a cellblock in San Quentin. But nagging anachronisms are inevitable blemishes when porn culture and style serves the task of costume storytelling. Or, in this instance, lack of costuming.
Raylene as the title character is stunning and nubile in this on-the-money artists and models period extravaganza whose visuals summon a favorable comparison to HBO's current series on similar subjects d'art. But with two big exceptions – nudity and fucking, and with produce, no less, such as when Chandler and a brunette accomplice nail Alana in a two-cucumbers-for-the-price-of-one d.p. scene that would, holy Quasimodo, peal the bell as far away as the Notre Dame Cathedral. Those of the Sapphic persuasion will, likewise, thoroughly enjoy Raylene's moaning and groaning bathtub game of hyde ye olde dildoe with servant girl Blair.
When not exploring the physical needs of the hired help, Raylene's an aspiring artist who nags her father, a master with a thriving school, to teach her a few tricks of the trade. He can only take her so far but Raylene's curiosities extend to the human form in its naked glory, and her unquenched desire to be the first woman to paint nudes makes her something of a de Medici era Gloria Steinem. Raylene solicits model Julian, a stud that – besides giving Michelangelo's David a run for the money in the washboard abs department – is something of a beachside lothario judging by his conquest of one of the school's many au naturel cuties. Obviously inspired by the girth of Julian's loins from his previous encounter, since she was also a voyeuristic participant, Raylene summons another skill, which was probably a bit latent, considering that it's the Middle Ages – cocksucking. She then finishes Julian off with a lusty handjob.
On the route to Raylene's inevitable career move, there's many a didactic exchange on the nature of aesthetics, but the ego of resident art world wonder boy Bobby Vitale would put the squelch on any up and comer. Vitale's prick nonchalance is convincing enough to earn a Best Actor pre-nom.
Aside from the fact that we learn Vitale has fucked his brother's wife and has his own stashed away somewhere in Genoa, he flips Raylene off time and again. But her persistence, not to mention her lush, naked body, solicits one of the film's three high-energy anal encounters. Vitale lands sidesaddle in Raylene's beautiful ass and in an earlier scorcher, Vitale "auditions" an aspiring model, brunette beauty Tasha Hunter, by way of her crapper, landing a pre-nom for the effort and a tease category nod for Hunter whose stunning curves are what Rubenesque dreams are made of. And, during an art school orgy sequence, Mr. Marcus goes shit digging with Vivian Valentine in a way that adds a new shade of brown to the palette.
Vitale's escapades suggest his inevitable fall from grace, but such is not the fate of Artemesia which earns additional nods in the directing, editing, cinematography and art direction categories, not to mention a place as one of the year's top three or four films.